The Associated Press April 21, 2011, 1:00PM ET

Kansas abortion-rights foes seek insurance change

Abortion opponents who've pushed successfully in Kansas for tighter restrictions on late-term procedures and additional rules for doctors also are pressing legislators for a new insurance regulation to keep health plans from automatically covering the termination of most pregnancies.

They're trying to revive a proposal to restrict health plans to covering only abortions necessary to save a woman's life and to require insurance companies to offer separate, stand-alone policies for "elective" procedures. Supporters want to attach the proposal to other insurance legislation once the Legislature reconvenes Wednesday to wrap up its business for the year.

The Republican gains in November have led to a flurry of such anti-abortion legislation in many states, including bills that would limit insurance coverage for the procedures. Critics of the insurance proposal contend that it's designed to limit access to abortion services by cutting off a way for women and girls to pay for them.

Supporters contend that the insurance regulation would protect employers who oppose abortion rights from having to contribute to employee health plans that cover abortions.

Ernie Straub, who runs a Shawnee construction company, said he raised the issue with the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life last year when he discovered his company health plan covered the procedures.

"I do not want to be participating in funding abortions with my dollars," said Straub, whose company picks up the full cost of health insurance for employees who've worked there for at least seven years. "That's worse than my tax dollars going to it."

Abortion rights supporters contend the state should continue to allow the health insurance market to decide whether abortion services are covered.

"These are issues that have significant, both, policy implications and implications for the everyday lives of women," said Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which performs abortions at its Overland Park clinic.

Five states, including Missouri, have laws requiring private insurance companies to offer coverage for most abortions in separate policies, with Utah lawmakers approving one this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. A dozen limit abortion coverage for public employees.

The legislation in Kansas would include both provisions and prohibit the sale of abortion coverage through any insurance exchange established under last year's federal health care overhaul.

Critics of the legislation worry that abortion-only policies would be expensive or companies wouldn't offer them.

Officials in Idaho and North Dakota, which have such laws, said only a few insurers offer abortion-only policies, and their states don't track how many are purchased. But Bill Deal, the director of the Idaho Insurance Department, said such policies in his state cost only 2 cents or 3 cents a month.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, which serves 30 counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, doesn't set a separate price for abortion-only policies, said spokeswoman Susan Johnson. It figures the cost for each group seeking the coverage, then adds it to the regular health plan it purchases, she said.

Johnson said "a handful" of clients seek abortion coverage.

In Kansas, the state Association of Health Plans is neutral on the issue. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the state's largest health insurance company, also isn't taking a position.

Spokeswoman Mary Beth Chambers said elective abortions are covered by all the Kansas Blues' plans unless a group of 50 or more asks to have the coverage excluded. Few do, Chambers said.

The Kansas legislation cleared the state House Insurance Committee, only to die at the end of March when the House failed to debate it before a key deadline.

But House Insurance Committee Chairman Clark Shultz, a Lindsborg Republican, said legislators are negotiating over other insurance legislation and the abortion proposal probably will be discussed.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, has called on lawmakers to create a "culture of life," and both chambers have anti-abortion majorities.

Brownback already has signed bills to tighten restrictions on late-term abortions and require doctors to obtain parental consent before performing abortions on minors. Legislators are expected to send him a bill imposing health and safety regulations specifically for abortion clinics.

"It doesn't surprise me that anti-choice leaders are relentless in trying to find ways to enact restrictions," Planned Parenthood's Brownlie said.

Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life's executive director, acknowledged the insurance legislation, though important to abortion opponents, didn't get as much attention as the other measures.

"We're a little frustrated to learn that it had been left behind and need to do what we can to bring it forward," she said.


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